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    Poland is waiting for you. Post-war fate of soldiers of the 2nd Corps in communist Poland

    Polish repatriation card of Polish 2 Corps’s soldier; source: IPN Rzeszów

    Throughout the years of World War II, they fought for the freedom of Europe and Poland. A large part of the soldiers of the 2nd Corps had previously been through Soviet deportations, arrests and labor camps in 1939-1941. They came in large numbers from the eastern territories of pre-war Poland. The decisions of the Yalta and Potsdam conferences were to change the fate of them and their families forever. Their homeland became a satellite of the USSR with the full consent of Great Britain and the USA, alongside whom Poles fought sacrificially during the war. The Russians did not help to liberate Poland from the Germans, as did the soldiers of the 2nd Corps in Italy, but the Soviets stayed on its territory for a long time. Poland was ruled by the communist government imposed by the Soviets, which was created not on the basis of conducted, free and democratic elections, but on a Moscow grant. Until 1989, no free elections were held. Former prisoners of the USSR – soldiers of the Anders Army knew what the communists were capable of. In addition, their family homes were located in the Soviet Union and were to remain forever outside Poland.

    Why, then, some soldiers of the 2nd Corps decided to return to this changed, post-war, communist Poland, risking their lives and freedom?

    First, from Italy, it was mainly the soldiers who joined the Anders Army in 1944-45, who had been forced to join the Wehrmacht by the Germans, who decided to return to Poland. They were Poles – inhabitants of Pomerania, Wielkopolska and Silesia – regions of Poland that had been incorporated into the Third Reich by the Germans in 1939. They knew “only” the conditions of the German occupation. They didn’t know what the Soviets were capable of. Their family homes were still located in Poland, and their families were waiting for them with longing. They were the first to return from the 2nd Corps to their homeland, still from Italy in 1945. Their number is estimated at about 14,000 privates and 7 officers out of a total of over 110,000 soldiers of the 2nd Corps in the second half of 1945. After declaring their will to return to Poland after the end of World War II, they were separated from their troops and grouped in seven repatriation camps near Naples, between Caserta and Benevento with their headquarters in Cervinara. As the head of the Polish Military Mission in Rome, Colonel Kazimierz Sidor assured them: “Poland is waiting for you”. Only if for sure?

    The soldiers of the 2nd Corps stayed in the camps near Naples from the beginning of August to the end of November 1945, and finally in 12 transports by rail in the period of December 2-26, 1945, they returned to Poland, crossing the border in Koźle in Silesia, west of Gliwice. Here, officially nice welcomed by the Polish authorities, they were however immediately subjected to thorough, detailed surveys about themselves, but also about other soldiers, commanders, the atmosphere in the 2nd Corps and Western countries. They had to declare their place of stay in Poland, and then where they lived – they had to report to the local communist authorities and the local military commission.

    The next wave of soldiers’ returns to Poland from Anders’ Army took place in 1946-1948, already from Great Britain. Expecting news from Poland, they decided not to return to Poland from Italy. They were counting on genuinely free elections in Poland. They continued to participate in military exercises on the Apennine Peninsula, with the illusory hope of the participation of the 2nd Corps in World War III – in the final settlement with the second, European tyrant – the USSR. As a result of the treason of the Allies, they did not live to see them. Moved with the 2nd Corps to Great Britain in mid-1946, they established contacts with families in the country and some of them, despite the risk of repression by the communist authorities, decided to return to Poland. The uncertain future in the country, the lack of career opportunities and, above all, fears of repression meant that a significant part of the soldiers of the Polish Armed Forces in the West remained in exile. In the years 1945–1947, only 1202 officers and 82,456 privates of the Polish Armed Forces, not only the 2nd Corps, reported for repatriation. Over 90 percent demobilized officers and about 50 percent regular soldiers of the Polish Armed Forces in the West decided to settle in the countries of Western Europe and not to return to their homeland.

    But what happened to those who in England made the decision to return to Poland? As was the case in Italy, they were separated from other Polish soldiers in Great Britain, and then transported by sea to Gdańsk. Here, after an in-depth check by the communist authorities, sometimes lasting up to 3 days, and often picking up the letters and books they had, they could return to their families. They also had to check in and register. The communist authorities, considering them to be potential agents of foreign intelligence, had to keep an eye on them. Some of them were already at that time offered  to cooperate with the security service.

    The soldiers from the former Eastern Borderlands were in the worst situation. If their relatives moved to post-war Poland – to Gdańsk, Szczecin, Wrocław, Silesia or Masuria, to name just a few places, they began a new life in the difficult post-war reality, in a new place and surroundings, under surveillance by the communist Security Service, but in Poland. Those whose families decided to stay in the Borderlands (Kresy), which were now incorporated into the USSR, joined with them and condemned themselves to another brutal repression by the Soviets. It was the families of Anders Army soldiers who in 1951 were deported by the NKVD from the territories of Belarus and Lithuania and sent to the Irkutsk Oblast and Kazakhstan, where they had to stay until 1956, performing forced labor in difficult conditions. After returning with the taint of “enemies of the people”, they were deprived of their property and the possibility of a better job, and continued their education, they lived in poverty, without any veteran privileges. And yet they fought during World War II alongside the allies (allies of the USSR), with a common enemy – Germany.

    It is estimated that 10 generals of the Polish Armed Forces in the West returned to Poland. It is worth emphasizing that the head of the communist Polish Military Mission in London could only accept soldiers of a lower rank for their return. Military of higher ranks had to be approved by the Minister of National Defense. So, as you can see, not everyone was welcome in the new, post-war Poland. Elements of the so-called reactionary imposed communist authorities did not want in the country. These people could pose a threat to the stability of the state dependent on the USSR. Among those who returned there was, for example gen. Bolesław Szarecki – chief surgeon of the 2nd Corps.

    Until 1947, officers who returned to Poland believed in the possibility of returning to work in the country, to serve in the Polish Army. However, the growing Stalinism in Poland resulted in extensive repression of the soldiers of the 2nd Corps. From that year, the pre-war, experienced officers were removed from the army, former soldiers of the 2nd Corps (e.g. Witold Pilecki) were arrested and sentenced to death or long imprisonment. For fear of returning to the country the charismatic commander – General Władysław Anders and his experienced officers, for their firm anti-communist attitude, on the motion of the Minister of National Defense – Marshal Michał Rola-Żymierski, deprived by virtue of resolutions of September 26, 1946 the commander of the 2nd Corps (for anti-Polish activity) and 75 officers of the Polish Armed Forces in the West (who joined the Polish Resettlement Corps – PKPR) of Polish citizenship. While the officers were restored their citizenship in 1971 (thus trying to improve contacts with Polish combatants in exile), General Anders was only posthumously restored in March 1989! The aim of the communist authorities in depriving the highest Polish commanders in exile of Polish citizenship was to prevent them from returning to the country, and to intimidate the rank and file of the Polish Armed Forces to join the PKPR. The adopted resolutions confirmed the fears of a number of Polish soldiers to return to post-war Poland and an open fight with the only legal Polish authorities in exile.

    It is important to emphasize that post-war Poland was not a democratic country. Introduced on the model of the Soviet power in the USSR, only the legitimate communist power and its extensive system of political repression were everyday life for Polish citizens. Censorship was also in force, including correspondence. From the first months of the new state’s operation, with little public support, the communists searched for political enemies and tried to imprison or kill them. For the mere fact of belonging to the 2nd Polish Corps commanded by the anti-communist General Anders (let us recall an earlier several-month-old prisoner from Lubyanka in Moscow), they were suspected.

    The recent winners from Monte Cassino, Ancona and Bologna, posing a threat to the communist country being created, have become, next to the Catholic Church and soldiers of the Home Army, the enemy No. 1 of Stalinist Poland. All those returning to the country were subjected to surveillance by the security service. Pejoratively called “Andersowcy”, they had difficulties with finding a job compatible with their qualifications, with supplementing their education. Their families were also repressed. Soldiers fighting for Poland’s freedom became enemies, deprived of veterans’ rights, persecuted for many years to come.

    While their colleagues in the West were able to share their memories, meet and develop their veterans’ activities, look after the graves of their colleagues who died during the war, the veterans of the 2nd Corps in communist Poland were keeping themselves in hiding. Only the 1970’s brought an improvement in the situation. The underground publishing system began to publish reprints of émigré publications and memoirs about the 2nd Corps, including the memoirs of General Anders. This contributed to the increase of knowledge about this unique unit of the Polish Armed Forces in the West, also outside the families of veterans. After the fall of communism in 1989, it was possible to openly talk about your experiences and participate in worldwide veterans’ conventions, create veteran organizations of soldiers of the former Polish Armed Forces in the West, which operate to this day.

    It is also worth mentioning at this point the very difficult fate of the families of the soldiers of the 2nd Corps, who, fearing Soviet repressions, decided to remain in the West after the war. The drama of husbandless wives and children without fathers was a huge problem for many Polish families. Many of them did not see each other until the 1960’s or 1970’s. Some of them decided to emigrate after coming to Great Britain, for example. The great history, the decisions of the Big Three in Yalta and Potsdam resulted in tragedies and the separation of many families.

    The few soldiers of the 2nd Corps, usually in their old age, decided to return to their homeland after many years. Others had a last will for their ashes to be buried in their native land. This happened, for example, with General Zygmunt Bohusz-Szyszko, deputy commander of the 2nd Corps, Col. Bronisława Wysouchowa – the commandant of the Women’s Auxiliary Military Service of the 2nd Corps or was it the will of General Nikodem Sulik.

    The difficult fate of the soldiers of the 2nd Corps during the communist Poland did not break their attachment to the tradition of the pre-war Polish Army, the motto of their service: God – Honor – Fatherland. Many of them, despite the repression imposed, were involved in opposition activities from the 1970s, despite difficulties maintained contacts with their colleagues from the 2nd Corps who remained in exile, and documented the fate of the 2nd Corps and its soldiers, and then passed them on to the next generations. This is also evidenced by numerous monuments, plaques, schools and scout teams named after the 2nd Corps, its commanders and units. After 1990, the traditions of selected divisions of Anders’ Army were taken over by branches of the Polish Army, already democratic and free Poland.

    The statements of the veterans of the 2nd Corps living in the country show that the period of their service in this unit of the Polish Armed Forces in the West was one of the most beautiful years of their lives. Fortunately, many of them wrote down their memoirs or passed on their reports to the next generation during meetings with young people. Their children and grandchildren, as well as a number of history enthusiasts, reconstruction groups nurture and will nurture the memory of their service to the homeland in Poland.

    author: Aneta Hoffmann, Warsaw, Poland

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